Game Theory, Carcinisation, and the Omega Point
Game theory: study of strategic decision making.
Carcinisation: a hypothesised process whereby a crustacean evolves into a crab-like form from a non-crab-like form.
Omega Point: the purported maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which some believe the universe is evolving. The term was coined by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Humans are a very strange creature compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. The primary form of competition and selection is imposed on an individual by his own, or another’s, society. While the occasional extraordinary natural disaster in the form of a tornado, earthquake, viral epidemic, and so on wreak their havoc on humans and human societies, for the most part we have mastered the forces of Nature, at least insofar as we consider those forces external to human society. The primary source of evolutionary selection for the human race, since the dawn of civilization (perhaps even before that; maybe even at the Dawn of Man [if you’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, well… take some acid and watch that asap]) has been imposed by humans themselves on each other. You are less likely to be impeded in your success at sexual reproduction by merely natural forces than by the social systems which evaluate your sexual and moral worth as a human being.
This suggests that the limits of our growth as a society is imposed less by mere forces of physics and biology, which we have found ways of working around or even incorporating to our advantage (not to discount that they remain hard limits), but by the problems of coordinating many rational actors. Not all spontaneous actions undertaken by individuals, whether they impose a burden to the individual or propose a benefit, are aligned with the collective’s survival. At times, the individual’s personal interests and collective interests are perfectly aligned, and we do not need to augment their implicit game theoretic strategy through incentive structures, but at other times we are only able to develop stable Nash equilibria for the collective action problems facing societies through elaborate traditions which punish defectors and punish those who won’t punish the defectors in ways that are difficult to detect for the uninitiated. Over time, as we gain more and more mastery of physical and biological nature, we shall brush up all the more fiercely and intensely with the limits of the collective action solutions we have yet been able to maintain. Many times, there is a cycle of integration and disintegration, wedded to the dynamics of population, conflict, and production, which sees simpler collective action problems find solutions, but this bumps the problem back another step and introduces the nascent society to higher-order collective action problems it has never been confronted with. This is a fancy way of saying that, once one problem becomes solved, the growth of social complexity eventually outstrips the ability of the initial solutions to cope, and society declines.
From a far enough perspective, however, these oscillations between social integration and disintegration yet suggest an upward arc. As Teilhard declares, “All that rises must converge.” While this seems an apparently Progressive kind of thing to say, it actually forms an inversion of the Progressive eschatology. Given Teilhard’s Catholicism, this is perhaps unsurprising. Is he right?
At the end of the day, there is almost always only one optimal solution. While some solutions to a given problem may be adequate for its time and place, a superior solution will eventually outcompete and displace that initial solution. At times, that initial solution is a necessary step in the production of the later optimal solution. This the dialectic of evolution, which whittles forms down to those best able to propagate themselves over time. Given the reality that along even a very high n-dimensional axis there shall always be a tendency towards equilibrium, this suggests that over time social beings tend to one particular form. In other words, given an infinite amount of time and assuming a continuous chain of being, there can only emerge one inevitable form.
Within limited and specific conditions, game theory predicts that particular games have one inevitably optimal solution. Assuming players of a game form a group, over time those groups which achieve greater game theoretic evolutionarily stable equilibria shall remain. For instance, the iterated prisoner’s dilemma optimal solution is the strategy of tit-for-tat; initially cooperate, but respond to defection with your own defection. Over time, and assuming a competent player, cooperation should become the norm. This cooperation in real life situations that approximately model this dilemma expands the territory, and in expanding the territory introduces new means of interacting and playing the game, producing the need for a more complex strategy. However, in all cases there shall tend to be a convergence; each game, no matter how complex, has one optimal strategy. (In the case of different strategies which, for that particular game optimize to equally maximal outcomes, keep in mind that in society the solving of one game introduces another game which needs to be solved; these consequent game chains are what will select for those that produce optimization at higher orders.)
All of this is to say that, ultimately, the universe is set up so as to select for some particular optimal game theoretic strategy employed by societies, which in turn makes it inevitable that there is one best form of society which will inevitably outcompete and displace all others. This “final” society, or conglomeration of self-propagating forms found at the end of time, is the hypothetical Omega Point. Whether one would like to call it equilibrium or teleology, it is suggestive of something (you don’t need to buy into Teilhard’s speculations that this Omega Point is God, but he is certainly right to point out this maximal level of complexity/consciousness is particular). From the perspective of God, whatever the universe is, given interactive social individuals have only one way to proceed forward (or else be selected out), the universe is an Omega Point making machine. From a certain perspective, the end of time operates to draw the universe to it as much as the beginning of time pushes the universe.